The Lost Art of Dress: The Women Who Once Made America Stylish by Linda Przybyszewski, came on my radar this year, I put it on my library request list, I was very excited to get my hands on it, and it did not disappoint!
When I picked it up, I flicked through to find the illustrations, and when I found this classy number, the grey suit on the right and read the caption, “The sophisticated woman was not twenty and not worried about it in 1955. She wore grey colors and finer details.” I knew I’d love this book!
The Lost Art of Dress unravels the work and long-standing impact of the ‘Dress Doctors’; women who gave advice to other women, on what clothes to buy, sew, or re-style to suit their lifestyle, age and budget, while upholding the all important rules of dress and adornment. We are not talking pearls with everything, we are talking about a frank look at what you spend your days doing, and what clothes will serve you best, at how useful pockets are, how to care for your clothes, and make them last – more than one season.
Like the Housecoat on the left, below. I NEED one of these! And the cocktail frock on the right too, how fabulous is that collar?!
Jokes aside, it was interesting reading what the Dress Doctors had to say. They were writing to American women, by and large, who were working in and out of their homes, raising a family, sometimes with their own income, but mostly, having to clothe themselves and their family on less cash than most western women these days might spend on a coffee every week. Humbling to say the least. Sewing my own clothes is about stepping out of the ready to wear fashion industry and saving money, learning new skills and creating my own look, but I still feel the impulse to Sew All The Dresses because I think they are fabulous and I must have them…. Not so much because I need ten cocktail frocks.
That is the kind of frivolous approach to Fashion that the Dress Doctors advised against. Your time is precious, your budget is limited, chose your wardrobe wisely! If you are attending a cocktail function every week, then maybe your wardrobe, ahem, wardrobes, need to be full of glamourous gowns and numerous housecoats. But if your life is more about the day to day work of living, working, caring for a family, then look at making or buying a well cut, high quality suit, which you can wear different ways, make sure you have a good hat, and you’ll go far.
The Dress Doctors believed that a woman can dress wonderfully and feel good on a budget, with careful planning, using sewing skills and thrift almost anything is possible. That there were rules, around colour balance, age and practicality that were essential for all women. ‘The eye has to travel’ before it came a catch phrase, and I’m thinking about some of these ideas as I plan my new sewing projects… I am also in awe at the skills some young women, or girls had, and were expected to have to follow the Dress Doctors recommendations.
As I discovered in the first caption I read, the Dress Doctors valued the ‘older’ woman, she was experienced, knowledgeable, and had the kind of sophistication that young women can only dream of possessing, but has to be lived and worked for. How about that as an alternative to our ‘staying younger’ for longer, youth obsessed culture? ….And how about this travel suit for the weekend on the slopes?
You’ll enjoy learning about the history of fashion and how the Dress Doctors changed with time, how political, youth and civil rights movements changed how women dress and have a few laughs on the way. Scandals like women wearing pants and leaving the home for paid work, the beginning and demise of home economics in schooling, what women have lost, and gained over the last decade or so… Visit the authors’ website for more info, Professor Pski.